Confessions of a Lifelong Audiobook Addict

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The news that children’s audiobook sales have gone up while ebook sales have declined doesn’t surprise me. It’s not because there’s anything wrong with ebooks. But for as long as I can remember, I’ve loved being read to.

A Stack of Picture Books and a Record Player

Like many other kids, I lay in bed next to my older sister each night listening to my parents read to us before, or as, we went to sleep. When Mom willingly read Sam, Bangs, and Moonshine again, we rewarded her by giggling like it was the first time when she rasped and wheezed Tom’s last line: “Whaaaaaaaaaa sis name!”

But I wasn’t sated by my parents’ three to five books a night. So I went to the record player. I can clearly see Pooh sitting on a rock in the middle of a stream and hearing him say, “Think, think, think.” And I can see myself waiting for the 45-rpm to “ding,” telling me it was time to turn the page.

My sister and I also listened to longer stories on LPs. In a way, you could say musical soundtracks classified as audiobooks—Oliver, anyone? But I won’t start that argument. One of our favorite stories was Heidi. I was overjoyed when I found a complete recording of it on YouTube. My sister was less nostalgic, and it’s no wonder: She had claimed the original record for her three kids and played it for countless other children during the decade she ran a daycare.

Of all the books I read in the fourth grade, the only ones I remember are those my teacher Mrs. Charla Hardy read out loud to us. They included The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Borrowers, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Henry Huggins, and My Side of the Mountain. To this day, I remember the story and plot better when I listen to a book rather than when I read it silently to myself.

Being Read to as an Adult

My mother and I had our best beach vacation ever the year we took turns reading Celestial Navigation to each other. And when I vowed I’d only marry someone who would read aloud to me, no one in my family batted an eye. One of my first cherished dates with my husband was keeping him company as he cleaned his apartment. As he swept and dusted, I read Emily Dickinson poems out loud so we could discuss them.

Surprisingly, I didn’t listen much to books on CD. But I know for certain that I listened to Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. At the end of the book, his last speech was so moving that I cried on my way to work while crossing the Congress Street bridge in Boston.

Audible captured my attention right before I started graduate school for my MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults. That just happened to coincide with Audible’s launch of their Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), the platform that increased audiobook production ten-fold in one year. This was also when Audible introduced Whispersync, which allows readers and listeners to seamlessly switch between reading a Kindle book and listening to its corresponding audiobook without losing their place. I spent my first Audible credit on Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

For a while, Audible satisfied my desire to be read to. Then I had a car accident while talking to my mom on my (hands-free!) phone. That meant no more phone calls during my commute. By then, I was in graduate school with a steep reading requirement, so I started using my commute time to listen to audiobooks. That depleted my Audible credits much faster, so I made it a top priority to find free audiobooks. I added the free Overdrive app to play audiobooks I borrowed from my county library and later the free Hoopla app to play ones on loan from my city library.

Practicing Tolerance of Audiobook Avoiders

Am I the only one who feels taken aback when someone says they don’t like audiobooks? It’s the same discombobulation I feel when someone says they don’t like massage. It’s been especially hard to find peace with the fact that no one in my immediate family likes audiobooks (or massage). It didn’t even help when I focused my Christmas giving on digital books on year—both audio and ebooks.

I’ve exchanged books and reading recommendations with my parents since that first off-the-reading-list summer, aka the first summer after graduating from college. So you can understand why I wanted to share my ebooks and audiobooks with them. I went out of my way to buy them each a Kindle with audio capabilities. I set my parents up as “children” on my Audible account so I could freely share my favorite audiobooks with them.

I gave my dad a digital version of Huckleberry Finn because he likes to read it every year. I gave my mom the Bible. I even went so far as to listen to multiple Bible narrators so my mom wouldn’t have the same experience I did when she gave me the big box set of the Bible on CD several years before. (Why, yes. You’re right. I didn’t mention it on the books on CDs I listened to earlier.) Those CDs had dramatic, celestial music running constantly behind the narration. It felt like having to sit through a brutally long one-and-a-half-star movie about Moses. Plus, unlike her CD Bible gift to me, the audio Bible I gave her came with no agenda.

Despite all the reasons I thought my parents would fall in love with audio (You can increase the type size! It’s lightweight! It only has two buttons!), my dad never opened the box. And he has a Ph.D. My mom, bless her heart, felt like she owed it to me to listen to and read on her Kindle. But she could never find her way around, and I ran out of ways to explain the cloud.

I couldn’t even convert my sister to audiobooks. She claims she can’t be mentally or physically still long enough to listen to a whole book. Her second excuse is that she’s not coordinated enough to listen and walk on the treadmill at the same time. Whatever.

What do you think? How does your experience with audiobooks compare to mine? Share your story in a comment or take a few minutes to take this short poll. Or do both—you know you want to.

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